The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Olmstead enforcement on the 13th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead v. L.C. decision. In its decision, the Court recognized that the civil rights of people with disabilities under the ADA are violated when they are unnecessarily segregated from the rest of society. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez testified about DOJ’s enforcement efforts, which includes actions in 25 states. Henry Claypool, Principal Deputy Administrator in the Administration for Community Living, talked about the administration’s efforts to foster collaboration among relevant federal agencies. Ricardo Thornton, Sr. shared his past experiences living in Forest Haven, an institution in Washington, DC. Mr. Thornton talked about his transition to the community, his job, his church membership, and his family. His testimony was eloquent and moving:
When we were in the institution, we didn’t have a voice. We were thought to be incompetent so no one took the time to teach us things. But people can accomplish great things with support. Having an intellectual disability doesn’t limit what you can contribute. Being put in institutions limits what people can do and guarantees that people will be dependent for the rest of their lives.
Also testifying about successful community integration were:
- Rita Landgraf , Secretary, Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (formerly Executive Director of The Arc of Delaware), and
- Zelia Baugh, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Mental Health.
Statements of all the witnesses can be found at the HELP committee website.
To commemorate the anniversary of the Olmstead decision, DOJ created a website called the “Faces of Olmstead” that highlights some of the people whose lives have been changed because of the Olmstead decision and DOJ’s enforcement efforts.